Producer protection laws stirring heated debates

Apr 29, 2013

While the ag industry, farmers, ranchers, processors, and food retailers have come a long way on improving communications with consumers, recent heat seems to have set the industry, once again, in reactive mode.

Despite the fact that the industry continues to provide a safe, abundant food supply to a growing population, some big names in Hollywood have joined the animal rights social media blitz wagon, sharing their political views on topics relating to animal rights.

While the wheels continue to turn, the topics surrounding animal rights versus animal welfare continue to heat up, with more and more non-ag based opinions influencing ag business. Combating the welfare versus rights topic is becoming more and more challenging for producers.

Last week, Ellen DeGeneres teamed up with Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States, and they vowed to fight against any “Ag Gag” bills.

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee took some heat, not only from DeGeneres and Pacelle, but also from country star Carrie Under wood, when she tweeted her plans to show up on his doorstep if he signed the state’s Livestock Cruelty Prevention Act, SB1248, which “would make it a crime for investigative journalists and organizations to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities.”

A recent proposed California bill didn’t make it much past the first reading. It would have required that anyone who documented animal abuse had to turn over the evidence to authorities within 48 hours. Scathing articles hit main stream media throughout the state, screaming that it would be impossible to establish a pattern of abuse in that time frame.

In Indiana, supporters of the state’s Senate Bill 373, including the Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, say it protects private property rights and stops farms or factories from being maligned by edited videos, sometimes taken by people who have obtained a job solely for the purpose of destroying a company. But activists are working hard to eliminate passage.

The most recent version of the bill has been stripped of any language that makes it a crime to take videos, focusing instead on trespassing and lying on a job application. Rep. Bill Friend, a farmer who is sponsoring the bill, said House and Senate Republicans are headed toward agreement on a version that makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail, to take the unauthorized video, and also makes it a crime to lie on a job application. The bill does allow people to avoid prosecution if they turn over the photos or video to law enforcement or a regulatory agency within five days.

In the more conservative state of North Dakota, a new animal cruelty law passed last week, which, according to Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, adds “a penalty that fits the crime,” despite the fact that animal cruelty was already illegal and voters rejected a similar measure just last year. Animal cruelty is now a Class C felony, which now leaves South Dakota as the only state that does not consider severe forms of animal abuse to be a felony, according to Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga.

Despite the heightened media and Hollywood attention, producers and ag groups continue to focus on a common sense argument, called “animal welfare.”

Domesticated animals deserve respect and care. That’s called “animal welfare” — and a priority of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), an organization comprised of livestock, equine, poultry and aquaculture producers, producer organizations, veterinarians, extension personnel, academicians, scientists, federal and state regulatory agencies and allied industry.

Jim Fraley, livestock program director for Illinois Farm Bureau and co-chair of NIAA’s Animal Care Council, agrees that animal welfare and animal rights are not the same.

Significant discussion was devoted to this topic during NIAA’s annual conference in Louisville, KY, April 15-17. In the end, NIAA’s membership agreed on two key items:

NIAA believes in animal welfare and does not believe in animal rights; and Today’s children and future generations should understand the importance of animal welfare and not confuse animal welfare with animal rights.

“We believe in, and support, animal welfare as these practices focus on the prevention of suffering and cruelty to animals,” Fraley explains. “NIAA does not believe in animal rights as the animal rights philosophy advocates an end to all ‘human use of animals.’ “NIAA members believe human societies require and accept the use of animals as sources of food and fiber, as well as for scientific research, sport, companionship, entertainment and clothing. It is the obligation of animal caretakers to provide the best care possible of animals throughout their lifetime, and NIAA’s membership takes this obligation very seriously.”

During its annual conference, NIAA members adopted a position that public schools should not stir confusion regarding the difference between animal welfare and animal rights by allowing extremist animal rights groups to present their views which can be erroneously perceived as facts.

Concern about what public schools should or should not allow regarding animal welfare and animal rights education arose when NIAA members learned about a California school system which allowed a movie involving animals to be shown and followed up the movie with a discussion focusing on how cruel it is to eat fish.

“Those of us in animal agriculture do not believe that extremist animal rights groups should be allowed to dictate information children are exposed to—or will be exposed to—at our public schools regarding animal welfare,” Fraley states. “Animal rights groups led by the Humane Society of the United States, PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and the Institute of Humane Education do not reflect balanced views and are campaigning across the United States to implement what they refer to as ‘humane education,’ a program of extreme ideological material they aspire to teach in our school systems.

“They have been successful in a few cities, but up to now have not been successful at the state or federal levels, despite repeated efforts to introduce legislation.”

Fraley emphasizes that emotional, subliminal vegan messages replacing animal care based on accepted, proven animal husbandry practices is “not education, but indoctrination.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor